(photo credit: AP)
A branch of Italian clothing retailer Benetton was set on fire in Iran amid angry protests against the Israeli onslaught on Hamas-ruled Gaza, media reports said on Wednesday.
The store, located on Dowlat Street in upmarket north Teheran, "was set on fire by unknown people," the conservative Jomhuri Eslami newspaper and several other media sources reported.
The Teheran fire department said the cause of the incident, which occurred very early Tuesday, was under investigation, ISNA news agency reported.
"Benetton is said to be linked with the Zionist network," the government newspaper in Iran charged, adding that its opening in the Islamic republic "has sparked several disputes over the past two years and people and student bodies objected to its activities."
Established in 1965, Benetton is now controlled by Edizione Holding (a holding company wholly owned by the Benetton Family) with a 67% stake. It listed on the stock exchange in Milan in 1986.
Benetton has a long history of attention to ethical values and involvement in social and cultural initiatives.
Several Benetton stores have opened in the past two years in fashion-starved Iran, where global brands have largely been absent since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Last year a group of prominent MPs protested against Benetton's presence in Iran, alleging that it was owned by a "Zionist millionaire" and that its fashions were a bad influence on female consumers, AFP reported.
Islamic republic conservatives have long urged consumers to boycott "Zionist" products, ranging from Coca-Cola and Pepsi soft drinks, to Calvin Klein clothing and Nestle food products, AFP reported.
Angry protests have been held across Iran since Israel launched Operation Cast Lead on Saturday.
On Tuesday evening a group of Iranian demonstrators stormed the British diplomatic compound in Teheran to protest London's stance towards the Israeli offensive.
Meanwhile, hard-line Iranian student groups have asked the government to authorize volunteers to carry out suicide bombings in Israel in response to the Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip, AP reported.
The government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had not responded to the call by Wednesday.
Five hard-line student groups and a conservative clerical group launched a registration drive on Monday, seeking volunteers to carry out suicide attacks against Israel.
Volunteer suicide groups have made similar requests in the past and the government never responded to their calls. There has not been any sign of Iranians carrying out suicide attacks in Israel - making it likely that the groups' activities are mainly for propaganda purposes.
In an open letter to Ahmadinejad, the students said "volunteer student suicide groups ... are determined to go to Gaza. You are expected to issue orders to the relevant authorities in order to pave the way for such action."
A copy of the letter was made available to The Associated Press on Wednesday.